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1/1/2007 - January 2007 - Georgia Bible Curriculum Committee

December 7, 2006

 

 

 

Georgia Bible Curriculum Committee

c/o Senator Tommie Williams

148 Williams Avenue

Lyons, GA  30436

 

            RE:     Senate Bill 79

                        Georgia Bible Curriculum Committee

                        Proposed Textbooks

 

Dear Committee Members:

 

            The Southeast Law Institute is a nonprofit civil liberties and public policy organization serving, primarily, the southeastern United States.  Among our concerns are religious establishment and free exercise issues.

 

            We are writing to you as members of the Georgia Bible Curriculum Committee.  You are charged with reviewing possible textbooks for curriculum to be used by public schools in the teaching of Old and New Testament courses as electives under the provisions of Senate Bill 79.  It has come to our attention that one of the proposed textbooks is The Bible and Its Influence.  We are familiar with this textbook and have provided legal services relating to its use in the State of Alabama. 

 

            Our primary concern for The Bible and Its Influence is that it has a number of provisions which, if used, may violate the establishment clause to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  The publication is first class in its appearance and production.  While the appearance is appealing and the content acceptable to many persons, in the public school context, it must meet an important constitutional standard.

 

            We are familiar with the earlier edition of the publication and after reviewing the latest edition, we still have significant legal concerns.  At page 50 it says "[I]t is always good to remember not to try to apply current standards to the biblical accounts."  This statement calls for theological discussion and elevates the public school classroom to that of a Sunday School classroom.  While public schools are free to teach about religion as literature, history, art,

culture and other secular aspects, it is not proper to admit, deny, disparage, or proselytize the spiritual or religious meaning or teaching of any religion.

 

            In addition to those passages of the textbook which engage theological discussion, there are many other examples, such as at page 81 saying "Gideon won the battle by a bit of trickery," that mischaracterize passages in  the Old Testament.  Taken as a whole, such subtle statements are misleading and may ultimately serve to diminish the students' appreciation for the Old and New Testaments.  The reason public schools are not permitted to teach religion is because students are free under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment of the United States

Georgia Bible Curriculum Committee

Page 2

December 7, 2006

 

Constitution to worship as they or their families see fit.  Similarly, public schoolteachers have personal religious beliefs.  Neither should be required to subject their religious beliefs to any pejorative attack in the public school setting.  To permit this is a violation of the establishment clause, as well as, the free exercise clause.

 

            The teaching of religion in public schools has inherent difficulties.  While public schoolteachers must avoid anything that would amount to proselytizing, they must also avoid anything that would denigrate a student's religious belief.  The Bible and Its Influence contains many appropriate references to art, history, and culture, but it tends to fall very short in its presentation of history and calls into question religious tenets contained in the Bible.  Rather than objectively review the Bible, it serves as a vehicle to diminish its stature and this violates the establishment clause.

 

            We hope this is of benefit to you in your consideration of this particular textbook.  If you have any questions, please feel free to call upon us.

 

                                                                                    Yours very truly,

 

 

 

A.     Eric Johnston

 

 

AEJ/pmm

 

 

 

           

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